Friday Snippet

My apologies:  I don’t have a Shadowed snippet this week.  Honestly, I haven’t worked on it since last week — just too busy getting the kids registered for school, etc.  However, I hope that once you see what I *have* been working on this past week, that a few of you will forgive me.

First draft, subject to heavy revision.  Warning for language. 

What the hell is she up to?

Elias shifted on her bed, trying to figure out what was taking her so long in the bathroom. Last night, they’d been too frantic to even make it to the bed for the first three or four times…and now she wanted him to sit here and wait while she primped.

God, I need a drink. A couple of shots of whiskey would take the edge off, mellow him out so he didn’t fall on her like a raving lunatic. That’s the only way he’d survived three whole months without her. That, and of course driving by like a love-sick fool to make sure her place was okay. Sometimes he’d even sat outside in the wee hours of the morning in his truck for hours, just watching, remembering, trying to let go of his damned fool pride.

If he’d used his key and come to her one of those dark nights, would she have forgiven him? If he’d called, just once, instead of sitting in his empty apartment staring at the phone all fucking night?

Or did it take a half-starved homeless kid to bring us back together?

The bathroom door opened, and Elias damned near choked to death because his heart tried to crawl up his throat. He couldn’t breathe as Vicki came near her bed.

She wore a filmy white negligee that tied beneath her breasts and fluttered about her hips, oddly demure but so damned sexy he couldn’t remember his own name. Her dark hair fell loose and soft about her shoulders and her molten chocolate eyes shimmered in the candlelight. She picked up an opened bottle of wine on the bedside table and calmly poured two glasses of red. Still silent, she handed him glass and sipped hers, watching him with those dark, mysterious eyes.

He tipped his head back and drained the whole thing, even though he hated wine.

“What do you think?”

It had to be a trick question. Narrowing his eyes, he tried to make a joke. “Did we get married and I forgot about it?”

Her eyes caught fire and she slammed the fragile wineglass down so hard he feared it might shatter. “I told him this was a stupid idea.”

“Jesse?” Elias fought to keep an even voice. “What the hell does he have to do with…with…” he swept his hand at her negligee, fighting not to fist his fingers in that transparent material and rip it off her.

“He swore you’d like it.”

“So what, now you’re letting your cabana boy pick out sleazy underwear and babydolls? For me?”

“At least I’m not wearing it for him.” She whirled away. “Forget it, Reyes.”

Jumping up, he whipped out his arms and caught her, drawing her back toward the bed so he could sit back down. Snarling, she jerked and fought his grip, but he wrapped his arms around her, trapping her arms with his, and simply held her until her ire faded.

When he saw the tears on her cheeks, he cursed beneath his breath and held her tighter. He’d forgotten that sometimes anger from her hid her true emotion: hurt.

“I never should have worn this thing. I hate it.” She sniffed, a tiny little sigh of her breath, which in another woman would have been full-blown wailing and sobs. He tucked his head close to hers, even if she skull-slammed him. “I told him it was a stupid idea. Just forget it.”

“How could you hate this gown when I’d like nothing better than to rip it off you and ravish you senseless?” She shook her head, so he drew her harder into the cradle of his thighs, making sure she felt his erection.

“That doesn’t mean anything. I bet you had a hard on as soon as you walked into my bedroom.”

“It wasn’t this big, babe, this hard, this painful.” He lowered his voice and nuzzled her neck. “I’d like to think that you might say ‘I do’ to me someday.”

“You’d have to ask me first,” she retorted.

She had him there. He’d thought about it, sure, even when she was still an attorney. Even if she had to stand between the law and the very criminals he was putting away. But then his bigger head started working again and he remembered how quickly a marriage could go down the shitter when he worked his kind of hours. “I can’t stop being a cop.”

“And I can’t give up Jesse.” She whispered, but her voice rang like steel. “If you love me at all, don’t ask me.”

Not even for me? The words thundered in Elias’s head, but he refused to voice them. He did love her, and he’d had his chance. He’d fucked it up and walked out three months ago. That she’d let him back in this far was more than he deserved. He had no right to demand her whole heart for himself.

God forgive him, she’d already given up her career. Maybe not for him, not in so many words, but he couldn’t ask for anything else. It was his turn to sacrifice to be with her, and the only damned thing he had was his own fool pride.

His stomach churned like he’d swallowed a fist-full of razor blades, but he said nothing.

Nothing at all.

Friday Snippet: Shadowed

Some men tremble in the face of death.

Others bare their teeth and fight to the very end.

While I’m the cold Shadow that glides forth from darkness to slit your throat before you even know I’m there. 

My name is Gregar and I’m the deadliest, most honored assassin on the Sha’Kae al’Dan’s Sea of Grass.  They call us Death Riders, for we ride death like the wind across the rolling Plains.  My hair is heavy with red kae’als, each bead a life that I have snuffed out in the Great Wind Stallion’s name.  Vulkar, may He sire many foals.  

My ivory rahke is silent and swift.  When I draw it, I will not sheathe my blade until it is red with blood, whether yours or mine.

Nothing short of death will stop me, but you cannot kill me.

For I am already dead.

~ * ~

Years ago, I died on the jagged slopes of Vulkar’s Mountain.  Shards of obsidian sliced me to ribbons and the rocks glistened with my blood.  Yet I made it to the top.  I crawled into the fiery caldera and gave my broken, crippled body to Him.  Vulkar found my sacrifice acceptable and rewarded me this ivory rahke, a death sentence for any who endangers the Plains. 

Even now, I heard an insistent whisper of rolling thunder in my head, insisting another shadowed soul darkened our hills.  A life that I must claim.  He must die to protect all we hold dear.  I am Vulkar’s right hand of sacrifice.  Let His will be done.

Before I could mount Shaido and ride through the night to claim my prize, Kae’Shaman stopped me.  Older than the hills, his eyes gleamed with the wisdom of Vulkar.  When he spoke, it was Vulkar’s voice on the Plains, so I entered his tent at once.

“You feel the Call.”

“He’s far to the north.”  I nodded with a cocky smirk that I didn’t bother to hide.   “He lives a night longer than most but I wager he’ll be dead on the morrow.”

Even my own people didn’t understand how I could find humor in the face of death.  Why I felt no guilt when I tracked my next mark.  Why I joked and smiled while another life wavered in the shadow of my rahke

They never felt the heartfires of the earth crisp the flesh from their bones in Vulkar’s molten lake.  They never suffered the cold embrace of Death’s Shadow, the insidious creep of darkness into my very soul, which makes me invisible for the kill.  If I could not laugh, then I knew I would at last be wholly dead.

 “He mustn’t live so long.”  Kae’Shaman’s kindly face hardened with grim certainty.  “He plots to allow outlanders access to the Plains.  He must die this very night.”

“Tell me how and I shall make it so.”

“You must enter the Dream.”

I had heard whispered tales of such a feat but had never attempted a mark from inside his own dreams.  The thought made my stomach tighten and my heartbeat quickened.  In the dream realm, the Endless Night could easily reach out and taint any man.

“You are correct to fear.”  I twitched with surprise that he’d read my reluctance so easily, and Kae’Shaman spared a slight smile.  “Walking the Dream will draw heavily on your gift of Shadow, endangering your soul more than ever.  The Endless Night waits, crouched like a starving wolf in the dead of winter, and he hungers for you, Gregar.  You must dance on the rahke’s edge of Shadow and Light, becoming that which you fear in order to save that which you love most of all.”

Why did shamans always speak in riddles and grim prophesies I had no hope of understanding?  Quirking my lips, I shrugged and forced a laugh despite my unease.  “I love nothing so I risk nothing.  Show me the way, Kae’Shaman, and my mark shall be dead before I wake.”

The sympathy on the holy man’s face made my blood freeze in my veins.  “You will, Gregar.  Some day you will love more than life itself.  You will hold that precious heart beneath the weight of your rahke.  May Vulkar guide you in your darkest hour, when the Endless Night will lure you to ravage and destroy the last light of the world.”

Resolve, cold and grim, made my heart feel like an iced boulder in my chest.  “I may be shadowed, but I kill for no one but Vulkar.” 

 

Friday Snippet: Lady Doctor Wyre

I’m madly revising the holiday novella to get it submitted in time (by July 15th) and I’ve almost reached the halfway mark.  My goal is to finish this pass by Monday and then work on a brief synopsis and blurb to accompany the submission.  Interested beta readers will hopefully hear from me around Monday.

Skipping ahead a bit from the last excerpt I posted for you, this snippet takes us into the “dark outlaw’s” POV that Lady Wyre briefly referenced.  Yes, I know, another assassin, sigh.  But this man is not Gregar, although I think the Shadowed Blood approves most highly of him.  *grins*

     When a man killed for money—and was damned good at his trade—his price eventually went so high that few could afford him. Luckily for Sigmund Regret, there were plenty of millionaires as long as he was willing to traverse the universe. In his one-of-a-kind mega catamaran built to cut through space like a hot knife through butter, he lived a life of luxury purchased by the blood of others.

      But no luxury in this galaxy could satisfy the abominable ache of loneliness or erase the scars of his childhood. Nothing could ease that ache…except one Lady Doctor Wyre who literally held his heart in the palm of her dainty little hand.

      The miserable run-down nag he’d leased from the livery stable in this equally miserable hovel of a town snorted and gave one last weak jerk on the reins, trying to go back home to its dank stable.  Finally the beast surrendered to its duty with a jerky pace that jarred Sid’s teeth. With the Solstice a fortnight away, the hours of darkness seemed eternal, so the few precious hours of thin, cold sunlight would be welcomed by most. Not him. He did his best work at night, and as the sun began to peek over the horizon, he urged the horse to a shambling trot.

      In the cold and dark just minutes from her home, it was easy to let fantasies fill his mind. He imagined slipping the silver and ivory-handed pistols into a chest and locking them in a dusty, forgotten place or better yet, throwing them into an Imperial bin. Removing the slim, wicked little blades he hid all over his body one by one and tossing them out into endless space. Waking up to her each morning. Watching her wide smile of pleasure when he surprised her with little gifts like tea and ribbons and frivolous silk stockings that she adored so much.

      Sig had many regrets from his sordid past, but he couldn’t bring himself to regret leaving her each Solstice. Not when it meant keeping her clean of the blood on his hands or protecting her from the dozens of agents and bounty hunters constantly seeking Lord Regret. God knew she had enough danger of her own. The last thing he needed to do was drag a man into her vicinity who’d sell his own mother to the Ravens for a fraction of the coin Britannia would pay to get the great scientist back.

      In the narrow alleys, darkness still cloaked the rutted, snowy path with too many shadows that might hide some fool thinking he’d be the one to snag Lord Regret, but he didn’t deviate from the shortest path toward her. This close, he could feel a frisson of energy zinging through his body to which he was normally oblivious. Fire ants crawled through his veins, driving him closer to his target. Absently, he slipped a hand beneath his coat, rubbing his breastbone, but he’d never been able to feel her treatment. Just the scar where his heart had been.

      He’d never been able to decide if the tiny machines living inside him were responding to their Creator with joy, or simply feeding off his own spike of emotion as he neared her. Energy rose in his blood, as though lightning would begin arcing about him. He was tempted to simply spread his arms out wide and see if he could soar into space, riding the pulsing waves of energy.

      She’d not only saved him; she’d managed to increase his very normal human gifts until he felt invincible.

      Yet no matter how arrogant he might be, he was not stupid. A lifetime of protecting his own skin drove him to ride past her snug cabin on the edge of town. He hadn’t been followed, but if anyone had noticed that he always fell off the grid around the holiday season…and decided to put a few eyes and ears at the most likely locations…the last thing he wanted to do was kill a man in her house.

      She’d never forgive him if the blood splattered onto her fine silks.

      Shaking his head with an amused smirk twisting his lips, he dismounted in a grove of trees. Snow blanketed their branches and the ground. A great hush hung over the town, an expectant silence in the absence of the prevalent winds, a drawn breath held without release. He listened for any sound out of the ordinary, stretching his ultra-sensitive senses for any sign of pursuit or a hidden trap.

      The front door of her cabin slid open and a man stomped out. Tugging on his coat while he muttered beneath his breath, he headed downtown, casting a wary glance about him. Of course he didn’t even think to look at the grove of trees on the outskirts of town; he was too worried about gossipers seeing an unwed man leaving a lady’s house in the dead of night.

      Sigmund did not fail to note the state of the man’s dishabille, nor did he miss the silver star on the lapel of the man’s rebel coat. A sharp pain in his thumb made him look down at his hand.  Dumfounded, he stared at the slender blade in his palm. He didn’t remember drawing one of his throwing knives.

      He jerked his gaze back up to the back of the retreating man. Such a throw would be child’s play for Lord Regret and he certainly had no compunction against killing an unaware target. Lord Regret had no scruples. He had no heart, no mercy, no regret that he couldn’t laugh off or at least drink into oblivion.

      So why do you wish to murder this stranger without a single coin to show for it? A sly voice whispered, mocking such a supposedly immoral and cold, unfeeling heart.

      With a self-depreciating grimace, he slipped the knife back into its leather brace beneath his coat sleeve, tilted his bowler at a jauntier angle, and led his poor mount to the small shed that served as a stable when he arrived. Usually she’d prepared a spot for his horse with fresh hay and feed, for her locket warned her of his nearing vicinity, yet this time, the makeshift stall was bare. Another sign that she hadn’t any notion of his impending arrival.

      Shrugging, he tossed straw down for the horse while his mind gnawed like a rat trying to escape its cage. He was much earlier than usual, thanks to the engines he’d upgraded just last month, enabling a faster, more direct jump through the galaxy. If anything could lure Lady Wyre to the dark side—touring the universe with him—he’d thought it would be the most expensive and advanced technology, which had been founded on none other than Lady Doctor Wyre’s original experiments.

      If that doesn’t work, he reminded himself wryly, I have a dozen pair of pink silk stockings in the hold.

      Sliding from shadow to shadow was second nature, as was slipping inside her back door without knocking. He had to know the truth. Perhaps she’d been forced to remove the locket for some reason. It had to be working, or he’d be gasping on the frozen ground, waiting for the rest of his body to die.

      She sat at a plain wooden table sipping from a heavy cup much too big for her delicate hands.  Candlelight glowed upon her face, soft yet regal and so damned beautiful she might have been a queen herself despite the plain, standard-issue furnishings which surrounded her.  She couldn’t live lavishly and expect to avoid the gossipers, even though he knew she had enough coin to buy anything she wanted in York. She could buy the entire colony if she’d tap the funds he’d set aside for her. He knew she would have no qualms about using his blood money; no, it was her pride that objected.

      Even stripped of her title and House and position in Society, every fiber of her being screamed Her Grace. How she’d been able to keep her secret on Americus this long escaped him entirely, for he could see nothing but the grand Duchess sitting among peasants.

      “It’s no use,” he said in a low, deliberately Britannian drawl. “I see through your disguise.”

      She stiffened but didn’t jump from her chair or whirl to face him. Instead, she set her cup down and reached for the kettle. “Would you like a cup of tea?”

      As she refilled her cup, he noted that her hand trembled. He sat across from her, the spot the other man had just vacated. He dipped a finger into the still-full cup of lukewarm tea. Slipping his finger into his mouth, he watched her reaction through veiled lashes. “Your guest likes a little tea with his sugar.”

      Her eyes flared wide and her hand fluttered up to wrap her fingers about the locket—his locket, the key to his heart and life. She flinched at the energy she must feel sparking inside that metal heart, yet until she’d touched it, she hadn’t noticed his approach. That told him more than any words that she’d already made her choice before he could ask the question. She’d been too distracted by this other man to notice the metallic firestorm brewing on her breast.

      She’ll never sail space with me.

      “You’re early, sir.” Her words rang in the small room and her nose tipped to a haughty angle. Lady Wyre made no excuses or pretended regrets, which was one of the reasons he admired her so much. That steely pride and determination would help her succeed in any endeavor, whether in surviving a reduced situation on a colony or the Queen’s wrath if she were dragged back to Londonium. “Is the device malfunctioning?”

      He, too, could play the privileged lord, although that would ill serve his intentions with her, for ladies of Britannia held all the power. Such an act would immediately put him in an inferior position. He chose instead to slip on the dread role of the gentlemanly assassin, the man who both repelled and attracted her.

      With a flick of his wrist, the slender blade hidden in his coat fell down into his palm. He cut a slice of bread from the untouched loaf between them. “Would you like a piece, Charlie?”

      Shaking her head, she eyed the blade like a poisonous serpent had uncoiled on her table, but she made no objection to the familiarity of her nickname.

      He smirked and kicked back in his chair, nibbling on the coarse bread. Without looking away from her face, he rolled the blade from finger to finger on his left hand as though he didn’t have a care in the world. “So what’s his name?”

      “Who?” The word came out as a croak, so she cleared her throat. Narrowing her gaze, she hardened her voice. “Oh, I presume you saw Sheriff Masters as he left.”

      Sig deliberately let his gaze roam down her body, noting the filmy lace robe and her obvious nakedness beneath. “Was he as good as me?”

      As soon as the words came out of his mouth, he knew he’d made a grave error. One did not push Lady Wyre and think to sway her affection or decision. A push would simply cause her to push back harder or charge in an entirely different direction than which he’d intended.

      With a lazy smile to match his, she leaned back in her chair, all her tension and haughtiness traded for indolence. “Actually, he was very good, and I did not have to tie him up first to have my way with him.”

Friday Snippet: The Bloodgate Guardian

Since I’m not writing new material this month and June is not that far away, I decided to start teasing you with snippets of The Bloodgate Guardian, coming this June from Carina Press

You’ve been seeing bits of this story under several different names for quite some time.  The original first draft was my first NaNoWriMo project in 2007, then titled Night Sun Rising.  Over a year went by before I got around to the first round of Revision Xibalba.  I spent a lot of time expanding the book, adding subplots and tons of characters.  However, I kinda went overboard, and ended up cutting those subplots out.  Can you say too many characters? 

Now the story is leaner, tighter, and concentrates only on Jaid and Ruin (yes, he got to keep his name!!).  Ironically, exactly the story I ended up with in 2007, just revised, polished, researched, etc.  Not to worry, though — those subplots I spent so much time on will become the fertile soil for the next book.  *winks*

So, here’s part of the opening scene of The Bloodgate Guardian, Chapter One. 

He never hated his magic until it compelled him to kill.

From the broken shadows of his temple, the priest watched the encroacher attempt to work his doomed magic.  Brilliant ruby pooled in the pocked basin of the altar and overflowed, streaming across the hand-carved stone in vibrant filigree.  The blood glowed like molten rock hot from the earth’s heart, releasing magic into the night.

The once all-powerful priest shuddered, his skin crawling with the caress of power.  His nostrils flared to catch the tantalizing scent of sweet copper.  Such temptation.  He tightened his grip on the starved jaguar pacing within him.  Such power.

The city once known as the Mouth of Creation had kept his secrets for a thousand years.  Now he must kill this man to protect that forbidden knowledge.  Keeping to the shadows, the priest called out, “As Gatekeeper of Chi’Ch’ul, I command you to leave my city or die.”

The man whirled and whipped the bloody heart behind his back.  At least this one’s victim had been a goat and not human.  “Nobody else should know the name of my dig.  Who are you working for?”

The priest stepped into the moonlight, and the other man recoiled.  With the jaguar prowling the cage of his body, he knew all too well the image he made:  eyes gleaming like golden lamps, jaguar spots dotting his arms and blending with the tribal tattoos on his upper body, angular cheekbones and sharp forehead compounded by the stark topknot pulling his hair back from his face.   The man had discovered the city, unburied it stone by stone. He could not help but recognize a priest of what had once been a grand and powerful nation.  “My city has already been destroyed.  Would you destroy the world as well?”

“I have powerful, rich friends,” the man said, backing away slowly.  “Name your price.”

So be it.  Small golden lights began buzzing around the priest and his bones throbbed with magic.  “Nothing you can offer will stay my hand.  As long as I live, these sacred waters shall lie still and silent.  My curse demands your death.  The Gates must remain locked until the Return.”

Ignoring his threats, the man smiled with elation.  “We were right!  I knew it.  After all these years, I finally found the center of the world!”

The balls of light blazed brighter.  A golden swirling wave obliterated his vision.  Bones cracked and twisted.  His scream of pain rumbled bass, a jaguar’s roar piercing the night. 

Tail lashing, the jaguar crouched in a pile of torn denim.  The sharp stink of his prey’s fear burned his nose. It had been a very long time since he’d hunted. The big cat knew his purpose.  He was only called forth to kill.

The foolish man turned toward his modern equipment stationed on the nearby boulder, presenting his back to the jaguar.  “Jaid, don’t come here!  Don’t trust anybody and don’t let the codex out of your hands!  Especially don’t give it to Venus Star!” 

The jaguar growled a threat.  If this person possessed the codex, he must die too.

Whirling, the man ran up the peninsula that extended over Lake Atitlan.  He slung the goat’s heart out over the water and threw his weight off the side, angling toward the beach instead of the lake.  Effortlessly, the jaguar leaped after him.  The man gasped in pain and rolled away, narrowly escaping the slashing claws.

Wet with rain, a sudden gust of wind swept across the shore.  Clouds boiled across the sky to hide the moon and stars.  Thunder rolled through the night and the ground trembled.  Lightning split the sky, winds increasing until the trees thrashed and waves whipped the surface of the lake.

A shape formed in the darkened waters.  Thrashing, bulging outward, a hand rose from the depths.  Water broke, cascading down the sceptered arm, which was white and blotched with spots of age and disease.

The jaguar clamped his ears and tail tight to his body and terror rippled through his fur.  Oh, stupid human fool!  Why had he opened Xibalba, with no wards to lock the demons beyond?

Shuddering with horror, the man whimpered.  “Where are the golden plumes?  The jade feathers?  This isn’t Great Feathered Serpent!”

The jaguar swiped at the man’s abdomen.  Jerking away, the man screamed and fell backward into the lake.  He thrashed helplessly, then sank like a stone through the Gate as a Lord of Death crawled onto the beach with another demon right behind.

Snarling, the jaguar slammed into the first demon, trying to knock it back through the Gate.  Even weak as a newborn babe, it refused to go back to the Place of Fright.  The other Death Lord crawled out of the lake clutching a small hunk of flesh.  Cradling the now-cold heart to its mouth, the demon feasted, while the other sniffed the air.  His gaze turned unerringly to the goat carcass above.

Every drop of blood would give them power.  Power that could destroy the world. 

 

Easter Egg Hunt & Vicki Snippet

Welcome to all the Long & Short of It Scavengers!  My egg should be easy to find (look in the right sidebar) but I hope you stick around awhile and at least check out the Free Reads.

And since I missed the Friday Snippet last week (we were on vacation), and I was generally missing Vicki and the gang something fierce, I decided to post a bit more of Vicki’s story.  This scene is after the last one posted at VCONN Tower and occurs in Victor’s penthouse suite.  Hopefully you remember Mal — e.g. Malindre Kannes, the Mistress of Dallas — from Victor’s book.  She’s not just a side character, because she’s been clamoring for her own book lately.   *headdesk*

Warning:  first draft, subject to heavy revision later.  Genre:  Contemporary erotic (BDSM) romance. 

Mal, on the other hand, took one look at the man hovering at Vicki’s back and a huge smile broke across her face. “I knew it.” She hugged Vicki and gave him a slap on the shoulder. “Good for you, hon. If you need help housebreaking him, you give me a call.”

“I’m not a dog,” Jesse muttered.

With a low, wicked laugh, Mal stepped around Vicki and leaned in close to him. “If I tell you to heel, you will.”

He tipped his chin up and broadened his stance, but he didn’t take his hand off Vicki’s back. “No, I’m won’t. Not for you.”

A sharp thrust of emotion tore through her. Rage, jealousy, she wasn’t sure. All she knew was that she didn’t want Mal touching him, or Jesse doing anything for her. “He’s mine.”

“Of course he is, hon.” Mal drawled, not at all fazed by the sharpness in Vicki’s voice. “But do you know what he likes? Can you take care of his needs, whatever they are?”

She started to open her mouth, but Mal cut her off.

“If he needs you to put a collar on him, strip him naked, and force him to sleep on the floor at your bedside, can you do it? If he needs you to pick up a paddle and whip him until he can’t sit down, will you do it?”

Vicki felt him hovering at her back, nervous, yes, but terribly eager, his muscles tight, his heat rising.

Her stomach churned with anxiety. Her mind felt jammed full of images: Jesse naked, Jesse bound, Jesse begging, helpless, crying, screaming…for me.

A shudder wracked her shoulders and he pressed closer, dropping his forehead against her neck, burying his nose in her hair. “Do you need stuff like that?”

“I don’t know,” he whispered raggedly, but she felt his erection like a steel rod against her ass.

She lifted her gaze to Mal’s face, thoroughly prepared for a smug I-told-you-so look, but the other woman only nodded solemnly. “People think it’s all fun and games being a Dominant, but it’s not. We have a huge responsibility not only to keep the submissive safe but to also learn what they need and then, we have to provide it, no matter what that need requires. It’s your job to help him find out what he needs. You have to push his limits, explore his fears and his desires, and those desires will not always coincide with yours. If you care about him, you’ll make sure he gets those needs met. Your boy claims he doesn’t know what he wants, but I guarantee he’s got a few things in mind that will knock you reeling, and you haven’t even gotten started yet.”

Shaken, Vicki turned her attention to her brother, checking to see his reaction. He nodded as solemnly as his friend, his eyes dark and grim. “When I first met Shiloh, she scared me shitless.”

“Aw, poor baby,” Shiloh purred, turning away from her glowering Master and offering a hand to Jesse. “Let’s all get comfy before we scare the big bad Dominants too much.”

Winner, Vicki, and Victor

The winner of the St. Patrick’s Day giveaway is:  Sheila of Bookjourney!  Sheila, please send me an e-mail at joelysueburkhart AT gmail DOT com with your snail mail address and I’ll send the book your way.

Now for the Vicki snippet.

This snippet was a long-awaited one, for me at least.  I couldn’t WAIT to get Victor on page, but once I got here, I ended up unsure if I pulled it off.  This scene is mostly dialogue back and forth, so in revision, I’ll probably have to bulk up emotions, non-verbals, etc. but it was still fun.  Longer than usual, but there really wasn’t a great place to stop.

Vicki wasn’t one to beat around the bush once she’d made up her mind. “I need your help.”

“So I see.” Victor sat down behind his desk. “Where’d you meet Jesse?”

“It’s a long story.”

Victor kicked back in his chair and propped his ridiculously ostentatious cowboy boots on his desk. “I’m all ears.”

She filled him on Jesse’s background, how she knew him, and the snowstorm that had brought him into her house. “Honestly, I had no intentions of letting him stay with me for more than the night. I wasn’t thinking about taking him in permanently, not at all. It just…happened. I couldn’t leave him on the streets, and now that he’s safe, I can’t stand the thought of letting him go back.”

“Wait a minute. You just said permanently. Are you thinking about keeping him?”

“You make him sound like a pet,” she grumbled. “All I meant to do was get him a job, help him get on his feet, and then go on my merry way.”

“And now?”

“He’s only been at my house two nights, and I can’t…” She dropped her gaze to her hands. Her knuckles were white, her fingers turning red from the fierce grip she kept on her emotions.

“You can’t what, sis?”

Her cheeks burned. “You’re my brother, V. The last thing I want to do is tell you all the things running around in my mind every single time I look at him. You’ll probably beat him up or something.”

“Nah,” he drawled. “That’s Conn’s department, not mine. Mama might horsewhip him though.”

Vicki jerked her head up and glared at him. “Nobody’s going to lay a finger on him, do you hear me?”

“Protective, aren’t we?” He gave her a sardonic, knowing smirk that made her grind her teeth. “What do you want me to do, sis? Give him a job? It’s done.”

She blew out her breath in a loud huff. He knew damned well what was eating her, and he was going to enjoy every minute of it. He was playing games with her, just like he’d done when they were kids. Part of the fun would always be making her ask. “I thought that’s all I wanted you to do, but things changed. Now that he’s in my house, I want him.” When her brother’s eyebrow shot up higher, she quickly added, “to stay. I want him to be safe.”

“And you want him.” She opened her mouth to deny it, but he put his feet down and leaned forward, all teasing gone. “You came to me for help because I’m a Master, not because I’m your brother.”

Miserably, she nodded. Tears burned her eyes. “It’s so complicated, V. I didn’t know it would be this hard. Once I saw him, I couldn’t leave him, and now…I don’t want him to leave. Elias is wavering between pissed and somewhat understanding. I’m afraid I’m going to lose him, but I want to take care of Jesse, and I’m afraid I’ll end up taking advantage of the situation. I’m scared.”

Victor came around before his desk, sat on the edge, and took her hands. “I suspected for a long time, sis, but I didn’t know for sure. Is Jesse the first man that made you feel this way?”

Nodding, she whispered. “He’s been abused and he’s had a terribly hard life. He came to me for help, and I don’t want to make it worse for him, but I can’t stop touching him. The last thing I want to do is screw him up even more.”

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking Jesse is submissive because of his life on the streets. I’m not a sadist because I was tortured or because Mama and Daddy had a private version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the ranch. That’s a load of crap and it always pisses me off when people assume we must have been abused or ‘ruined.’ I was born this way. You were born this way. Jesse is a born, natural submissive, and he proved himself to be a survivor. He can certainly survive you. In fact, he’d like nothing better than to survive whatever you can do to him.”

“Who’ll protect him from me?”

“You will,” Victor said softly, giving her an encouraging squeeze. “You’ve already protected him by seeking help. I’ve been waiting all these years, afraid to push you, afraid to ask too many questions, but I knew when it was time, you’d know where to go.”

“Did you have this talk with Conn?”

“Sure did. And he had this talk with me when I first met Shiloh.” He hesitated, his eyes narrowing on her face. “I had this talk with Mama, too. You really ought to be talking to her and not me.”

But Vicki was already shaking her head. “Are you insane? I can’t get Mama to agree with me that the sky is blue. What am I going to do, call her and say, ‘Oh, Mama, by the way, I took in a homeless man who keeps begging me to take him any way I want.’”

“Sure.”

The thought made her stomach churn. “Never in a million years. I’d rather talk to you. And why not Mal?”

His producer and friend, Malindra Kannes, had created several risque shows for VCONN, and as a result, was known as the Mistress of Dallas.

Victor nodded. “Mal would be glad to help you, especially if you think you might be into punishment.”

Pulling her hands back, Vicki covered her eyes and tried to calm the fire blazing across her cheeks. “I have no idea. I don’t know why it’s happening. Why now and not years ago?”

“Because you found him. All his life, he’s been searching for the place where he’d belong, exactly as he is. He wants to belong to you.”

“You could tell that just from meeting him?”

Victor ticked the signs off one by one. “He couldn’t meet my gaze until you took his hand.”

“He was nervous–”

“He stepped as close to you as he dared,” Victor continued, ignoring her interruption, “silently begging for your protection and sending a sign to me that he was taken. You told him to wait for you, and he sat where indicated without a single hesitation, eyes only for you, his body tuned to you. I bet that when you touch him, however innocently, he sinks immediately into submissive invitation. Eyes down, shoulders and body relaxed, eager and willing to do whatever you tell him, and I mean anything.”

“How did you know?” Her voice sounded hoarse to her ears. “Is it that obvious?”

He laughed softly. “Yes, to me, to anyone who knows how to read the signals. What does Elias have to say about this?”

“He’s tolerant, but also jealous. I don’t know how we’re going to work things out. We’d sort of broke up, but he’s back in my life now that Jesse is with me. I called him to run a background check the first night, and he went ballistic.”

“I imagine so. Look, sis, I’m the last person who’ll ever judge you. If you want to keep both of them, you’ll figure out a way. You said yourself that bringing Jesse home brought Elias back. Maybe it’s meant to be.”

Mentally, she had to pick her jaw up off the floor. “I never thought you’d tell me to just… just… I mean…It’s two men, V. Two. I can’t get my own mind around the logistics. Elias and I talked every once in a while about marriage, but he’s a cop. You know how dangerous his job is and the shitty hours he puts in. He’s already been through one divorce. I know he loves me, and I love him, but I don’t know that we could actually get married and not kill each other, even if the drug dealers don’t shoot him down on the street.”

“I will never say a word against Elias or Jesse or both. However, I will admit that I was worried about you each time I saw you and Elias together. You’re both so hard and fierce, so Dominant, whether you play any sort of games in the bedroom or not. You’re too much alike, and neither one of you will back down from the challenge. I suppose that’s why you two broke up?”

She nodded, trying to swallow the lump in her throat. “You don’t think I’ll ever be able to work out a long-term relationship with him?”

“I never said that. In fact, you may have the answer sitting outside in my waiting room, if you can get Elias to accept him. First, though, you need to take care of Jesse. In his mind, he’s already given himself to you. It’s up to you to protect him, even from Elias and especially from yourself.”

“That’s what scares me to death.” She blew out a shaky breath. “I don’t want him to feel like he has to get a job and leave, but I don’t want him to feel beholden to me, either. I don’t want him to stay and put up with me and Elias’s shit because we helped him.”

“I can recommend a therapist who specializes in complicated BDSM relationships. You should both see her, immediately, before you get involved in an intimate relationship. Elias, too, and if he’s serious about you, committed to working out a life with you, then he will go.”

Vicki nodded. “Definitely. I’ll do whatever I need to do to make sure I don’t mess this up. Elias…” She shrugged. “I don’t know. When I feel better myself, I’ll have a talk with him and we’ll go from there.”

Smiling, her brother leaned down and hugged her. “You’re quite a woman, Beulah Virginia Connagher.”

“Geez, why’d you have to go and call me that? Here I thought you were going to help me!”

Victor laughed. “You can always call me, Vicki. You can call Conn, too, although his advice usually involves a poetry quotation. I hope you paid more attention in English than I did.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t use any football metaphors.”

“Ah, I’ve been remiss. Let’s see, Jesse is on your team. You have to call the plays and lead the team. The entire team depends on you to tell them what to do, but Jesse will run anywhere on the field, just because you told him to go. Your whole season is on the line, and if you call the wrong play, somebody might get hurt. Jesse will run for you until he drops, and if you can get the ball to him, he’ll sacrifice his own body to the defenders in order to catch it. He’d rather die than let you down.”

She groaned. “Is Elias on the field, too?”

“Of course. He’s the linebacker trying to sack you.”

“I’ve been tackled once—even though we were playing flag football—and it sure wasn’t pretty. I don’t think I like this game, V.”

“Yeah, I remember when that punk slammed you to the ground, even though the ball wasn’t anywhere near you. What happened to him on the next play, sis?”

“You and Conn both smoked his ass.”

Victor smiled and goose bumps raced down her arms. She suddenly wondered if that’s the smile Elias and Jesse saw on her face. “If you ever need help tackling Elias, call me. I’ll leave Jesse up to you.”

Winner & Vicki Snippet

Thank you, everyone, for reading e-books!  Tina, you’re the winner of yesterday’s giveaway!  Please drop me a note (joelysueburkhart AT gmail DOT com) with your selection from my backlist and the format you’d like.

And now to the snippet!  Here, Vicki has taken Jesse on an innocent shopping trip, which doesn’t end up quite so…innocent. 

She turned around, looking for Jesse, and found him mesmerized by a white fluffy negligee a few rows back in the lingerie department. Slowly, she walked back toward him, trying to figure out why he found the silly thing so interesting. It was innocent and frilly, totally not her style. He’d already said she was red, passion, fire. Not meek and insipid white, let alone such a feminine, helpless looking outfit.

Her hackles rose just looking at the damned thing, but she tried to keep the bite out of her voice. “You’re not picturing me in that, are you?”

His cheeks flushed but he met her gaze with a sheepish shrug of his shoulders. “So sue me, I’m a man, and I think you’d be hot in it.”

“In this?” Incredulity rang in her voice and he smiled wider. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Remember the surprise factor.”

That took her aback. When choosing colors and patterns only by her personal preference, she’d created a solid but boringly conservative line, which was far from what she’d hoped to accomplish.

“I already knew you were strong, kind, gorgeous, and that once you make up your mind to do something, you do it one hundred percent all the way.” His voice roughened into a whiskey husky drawl. “I heard enough last night to know that you’re also uninhibited and sexy as hell.”

Now it was her turn to blush. He just had to get in a dig about what all he’d heard last night. “What’s your point?”

“If you were to deliberately pick out something to wear for Reyes, I bet you’d choose red or black, right? This is totally unexpected. It screams innocence and shyness, a direct contradiction to your personality. If you were to slip this little baby on for your cop, I guarantee he’ll swallow his tongue in surprise, and then blow a gasket trying to get you out of it.”

Doubtfully, she took the hanger off the rack to examine the negligee closer. She tried to picture herself in it, and failed. Just thinking about it made her feel awkward, shy, and stupid, none of which she typically felt, especially around Elias. He brought out the vixen—or the crocodile—in her. Not the blushing virgin.

Maybe that’s exactly Jesse’s point.

He stepped close enough to whisper. “Hold it up to you. Let me imagine you wearing it.” For me.

He didn’t say the last words out loud, but she heard the longing in his voice, the intent in his body. Could he be right? Would Elias like her in such a feminine, innocent-looking nightgown?

She held the negligee beneath her chin and watched Jesse’s eyes flare wider, darken to the mysterious lost-lagoon depths.

“If you think it’s too…”

“Virginal,” she said wryly.

His mouth quirked and he dipped his head. “Then wear something brazen beneath, like a see-through thong. Or better yet, nothing at all.”

She arched a brow at him in warning but he only smiled wider. “That reminds me. You need underwear and socks. Hmmm. I wonder what size you are?”

Since he was so close, it was easy enough to reach around his waist and slide her fingers down the back of his saggy jeans in search of the waistband tag.

Mistake. Huge. Because instead of cotton, her fingers met only bare skin.

“Jesse. You are not wearing any underwear.”

A muffled gasp drew her attention. A blushing, wide-eyed saleslady stared at them.

“No, ma’am.” Whispering, he dropped his head and allowed his shoulders to droop, that automatic, innate signal of surrender she recognized despite her refusals to ever consider learning more about the BDSM lifestyle as her brother urged. “Extras were a luxury, and I don’t mind going without.”

Glaring at the ogling saleslady, Vicki shoved her hand down further. Her index finger lodged between his cheeks, the rest of her hand cupping his buttock. Jesse quivered beneath her grip but otherwise didn’t move a muscle, while the saleslady flushed even darker and finally whirled to disappear down a side aisle.

She tried to keep her voice firm instead of sultry, but her voice sounded like she’d just slugged a flask of Jack Daniels. “I thought we agreed to no flirting.”

“Um, it’s your hand down my pants. Ma’am.”

She couldn’t help leaning into him, squeezing firmly, letting him feel how strong her hands were. She’d grown up on a ranch and although she had two older brothers, her parents had always believed in hard work for every single person in the family. “What did I tell you to call me?”

“I can’t,” he breathed short and fast. “If I say your name while you’re touching me like this, I might not be able to control myself.”

Friday Snippet: Vicki & Elias

This has to be the last snippet, gang, sorry.  To make it up to you, it’s a juicy one.  Sorry it’s late.  This whole week has gotten away from me.  I didn’t get anywhere near the word count I wanted, and our weekend is packed.  Sigh.  Hopefully next week will be better. 

Elias set her down long enough for him to shuck his pants, while she shed her clothes in record time. Then he slammed her up against the wall so hard the whole house shook.

By the quirk of his mouth, he knew damned well how that must have sounded to Jesse downstairs. “Condom?”

Breathless, she narrowed her eyes, tempted to tell him yes just to piss him off. She was on the pill, but they’d been broken up for more months than she cared to count. “Have you been with anyone else?”

“No.” Somehow, he managed to sound insulted. “I’m not the one with the hot cabana boy downstairs listening to our every groan.”

“I’m not the one who walked out on us, and no, if you’re curious, I haven’t been with anyone else either.”

She pushed the shirt the rest of the way off his shoulders, reveling in the sheer strength in his body. He wasn’t a big man, but he carried a wallop of power in his lean, six-foot-tall frame. He’d trained for years, so he knew exactly how to use every muscle. His neck and shoulders corded and flexed, effortlessly shifting her higher on the wall.

“No condom,” she whispered, winding her fingers in the short, dark hair at the base of his neck. “Just you, Spike.”

Half in play but also deadly serious, he snarled and snapped his teeth at her ear. He gripped her shoulder in his jaws, biting just this side of pain, and she couldn’t suppress the delicious shiver that rocked her body against his. With a brutal thrust, he shoved inside her so hard that a cry tore out of her throat and she cracked her skull on the wall.

He knew exactly what she liked; he knew how much she could take; and he certainly already knew how slick and wet she was for him. The only problem: it’d been too long for him, too. After just a few thrusts, he shuddered and poured into her.

Panic made her pulse flutter like a butterfly trapped in a glass. Need pounded inside her as strong as his thrusts, demanding, hammering for attention. Her skin felt raw, like she’d rolled around in glass and sharp rocks, swollen and so damned tight that she wanted to scream at him for finishing so quickly.

“Damn you,” she ground out, clawing his back hard enough he grunted and thudded inside her on another pulse. “You son of a bitch. God, I need you so bad. What am I supposed to do now? I hurt!”

He actually had the audacity to laugh. “You’re insatiable, Vik.”

Furious, desperate tears burned her eyes. He’d said she was like a hungry crocodile. Maybe he was tired of trying to keep her satisfied. Maybe that’s why she suddenly found herself attracted to two men. Fury, need, and shame twisted inside her. She shoved at his chest, threw her elbow at his throat, and the more he tried to contain her struggles, the harder she fought him.

In a smooth move they must teach at the police academy, he flipped her over and used his weight to pin her against the wall. Awkwardly, she flailed back at him with both arms, but he snagged first one wrist and then the other in the small of her back. The more she squirmed, the higher he pushed her arms until her muscles quivered and her shoulders burned with pain.

“I’ve got you, babe,” he whispered in a devilishly relaxed—fully satiated—voice. “You know I’ll take good, long, hard care of you.”

Friday Snippet: Vicki & Elias

This snippet comes from Chapter Four, where Vicki has a heart-to-heart with Elias.  She’s scared, confused, and they’re just trying to figure out what’s going to happen to their relationship now that Jesse is intruding. 

Background:  the first night, she made Elias sleep on the couch and Jesse slept downstairs.

Her phone rang, making her jump. Elias. Sick at heart, she hit the button. “Please don’t tell me that you can’t make it tonight.”

What’s wrong, Vik? Is your houseguest starting to scare you?”

He laughed, telling her he wasn’t really serious. “You were right, Elias,” she whispered, fighting back the tears. “You were right, and I’m in trouble.”

Trouble like you need me to come over and bust his mouth open again?” His voice sharpened, all cop, ringing with intent. “I can be there in twenty minutes. If you’re in danger, then I’ll send the closest squad car to pick him up.”

No, no, I’m not in danger. He is. I’m scaring myself.”

Hold on a minute, Vik. Let me find a private room.”

She heard the chatter of the office and finally the door shut, sealing off all noises.

Okay, spill. What has you so freaked out?”

He does love me. He told me. Even the birthday card—that he made months ago—says that he loves me.”

Yeah,” Elias said slowly, drawing the word out. “How’d you react to that earth-shattering news?”

She squeezed her eyes shut and held the phone away from her ear in case he started yelling at her. “I kissed him.”

It took her a minute to realize the muffled sounds coming from his phone weren’t curses, but might actually be laughter. “You are not laughing at me, are you? I kissed him. No, I slammed him up against the wall like you did last night, only instead of splitting his lip open, I damned near bit it off.”

Elias laughed harder. “Did he thank you for it?”

Yeah, yeah he did. In fact, he begged me to do it again. Why aren’t you pissed?”

Oh, Vik, I don’t know. It’s not like I have any right to be pissed at you for kissing another man when I haven’t been around in months. Besides, you’re too upset for me to be mad, and he’s not a bad kid. No, he’s a real good-looking kid, a nice tender morsel.” He laughed harder, like one of his buddies had just told him the most hilarious joke he’d ever heard. “Making love to you has always been like wrestling a hungry crocodile. Did you shock the hell out of him?”

Stricken, she blinked back tears. Her chest felt too tight to breathe. “I’m that bad?”

Aw hell, no, Vicki,” he said, his voice as tender as she’d ever heard him. “You’re the hottest, sexiest, most passionate woman I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. But you’re not a soft, passive woman in bed, far from it. Half the fun is wrestling you for dominance, and the other half is making sure you enjoy the consolation prize as much as I am. Any smarter man would never have left you simmering all these months. It’s as much my fault as yours that you’re so attracted to Jesse.”

So you’ll come over tonight? Please?”

He let out a wicked, low laugh that made her blood smolder. “Oh, I don’t know, Vik. Your couch isn’t that comfortable. Besides, you’ve got that hot cabana boy to tend to you now. Why do you need me?”

I won’t make you sleep on the couch tonight. I swear.”

We’re going to be loud, babe,” he purred, drawing a rough groan from her. “I’m going to make you scream. We’re going to hit every surface of your bedroom, hell, your whole apartment, and your boy’s going to hear every whimper, thud, curse, and shout of release. Are you sure you’re up for that?”

Her nipples were so hard the lace of her bra felt like sandpaper. “Can you come home now?”

Now it was his turn to groan. “I wish I could, but I’ve got a meeting with the Lieutenant in five minutes. I expect we’ll go out on a tip this afternoon, so don’t hold dinner for me.”

Elias, please, you have to come tonight.”

I will,” he promised. “It might be late, but as soon as we’re done with the bust, I’ll drive straight to you.” He hesitated, an edge coming to his voice. “You know he’s probably loaded with STDs or worse. God only knows what he’s been exposed to in prison, let alone the streets.”

I know,” she whispered, lying back on her bed. “I’m taking him to the clinic tomorrow. I already made an appointment.”

You’re serious, then. Jesus, Vik.”

I know,” she repeated, closing her eyes and rubbing her temple with her free hand. “What does this mean for us?”

Hell if I know. I’d say I should simply take the hint and get the hell out of Dodge, but you’re begging me to come over tonight.”

I’ve missed you,” her voice broke but she refused to bitch and moan about the past. Elias had chosen to bail on her. He’d played both judge and jury and blamed her for everything that had gone wrong, but she couldn’t stop loving him. Even when he’s an uncompromising ass. “I don’t want to lose you all over again.”

But you want him too.”

Her relationship with Elias had always had a lot of failings, but one thing she’d never done was lie to him. “Yeah, I do.”

Friday Snippet: Jesse

Okay, I wasn’t going to post any more, but the next section is short and gives a glimpse into Jesse’s head.  And hey, it’s still Friday, and I’m celebrating because I got the revisions turned back in on the Maya story (early! whee!).

So here’s Jesse.

Oh, there’s something about me all right, Jesse thought sadly, waiting until she shut the door before looking about the room.  Simple, spartan, and the most glorious thing he’d seen in years, until he found a stack of clean clothes on the shelf.  Even musty from storage, they smelled like heaven.  Then he saw the shampoo and soap in the bathroom, and he found himself crying beneath the steaming hot water. 

      God, so incredible.  People just didn’t know what a luxury it could be simply to be clean.  To have a spare set of clean clothes.  To be in a safe enough place to risk taking his filthy clothes off and washing completely.  Bliss.  Pure bliss.

      It all came from the most gorgeous, unforgettable woman he’d ever met.  He had no pride left, or surely he’d be ashamed that he’d come to her like this and she’d taken him in like an abandoned puppy.  He’d depended on seeing her every day, but then she’d quit coming to the park.  He hadn’t even known her full name or where she worked.  One of the women he’d seen her with occasionally had dropped the fact that Vicki had left the firm to start her own business.  Somewhere on [street], so he’d started hanging out in this neighborhood, hoping to find her.

      Never in a million years had he thought she’d let him inside her home.  All he’d wanted to do was see her again, find her place, and maybe stop by once a week or so, just to talk.  Just to see her smile at his latest work.

      I know where to find her now.  He scrubbed his hair a second time.  I can’t stay long.  She’s sheltering me from the cold, that’s all.

      She has no idea that I’m hopelessly in love with her.